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Pancake and Cupcake Tastings at Delheim

Delheim Logo

When I first received our itinerary for Stellenbosch, a pancake and cupcake pairing at Delheim Estate immediately caught my eye. Were they serious? A wine pairing with cupcakes? What crazy mind had conceived this idea? The pancakes somehow seemed more doable, but these cupcakes really made me scratch my head. In any case, being the wine explorers we are we were excited to give it a go. Unfortunately, both pancakes and cupcakes were not for Nina due to her food allergies, so this review is all on me…

Delheim Estate sits on land up in the hills that was first turned into agricultural land in the 1800s by Jan Andries, who purchased parcels of land over a 50 year period to create one farm. In 1938, Hans Otto Hoheisen bought the 200 hectares which he wanted to use as his retirement home. By 1940, he had decided on parcels of land that he wanted to cultivate vines on, cleared the scrub and got going. In 1951, the German nephew of the owners, Michael Sperling, also called Spatz Sperling (Spatz meaning sparrow, Sperling being a synonym for sparrow), joined the operation and worked at the winery for 60 years, establishing it as a leading winery in the region.

The wine that made Spatz famous is his “Spatzendreck”, which was conceived in 1961 when he poured this newly developed wine (a sweet dessert wine with a brownish color) into the glass of a friend who exclaimed “Now, Spatz, this really is just ‘dreck'”, Dreck meaning dirt. Spatz’ sense of humor is expressed in the name of the wine, and he also created a hideous label that won Decanter’s prize for worst label of the year in 1970.

The day we went to visit the winery, we met with its national sales manager Johan van Dyk in the winery’s restaurant which is located in the midst of its sprawling holdings. Johan explained to us that Delheim is particularly proud of its family-friendliness, which was not only shown by all sorts of certificates attesting it, but most vividly by the children’s birthday party that was held at another table in the restaurant: The kids were digging into the cupcakes served to them while the parents enjoyed a glass or two of wine. All this happened in a great, relaxed atmosphere. If you have kids, this is definitely your winery to visit first and foremost.

Delheim's delicious pancakes

Delheim’s delicious pancakes

I started lunch with the pancake pairing. The genius of this dish is that it comprises a starter, a main course and a dessert in three small portions of pancakes which were delicious. The menu starts with a salmon and cream cheese pancake, is followed by a lamb shank pancake and then crowned with a pickled butternut squash pancake for “dessert”. The pairings were the 2014 Pinotage Rose with the salmon, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon with the shank, and the 2013 Edelspatz dessert wine with the squash.

The pairings really worked: The Pinotage Rose had some residual sugar with aromas of raspberry and strawberry as well as some cream and was very tasty with good acidity. Combined with the salmon pancake, it accentuated the salmon and its acidity cut through the cream cheese. We ended up taking a couple of bottles of the Rose because it was so tasty! I wish I could drink this every day on a sunny day.

The Cabernet Sauvignon, which had aromas of cooked red fruit, some cinnamon and was mostly fruit-driven, was made even fruitier by the lamb shank which also brought out more vanilla aromas in the wine. I thought the Cabernet Sauvignon was very drinkable (which, as you know, is quite the statement by me!) and the pairing did work.

Lastly, the Edelspatz with its strong aromas of canned peaches and apricot, was definitely enhanced by the butternut squash. The wine lacked some acidity for my taste and was too sweet tasting on its own. But combined with the pickled squash it was an eye opener: There were now aromas of nutmeg and cloves and the wine seemed way drier. Well done!

After the pancake pairing, Delheim Estate served us a lunch (I know, I know…I did gain tons of weight on this trip). One thing I want to mention about the lunch is how accommodating Delheim’s kitchen was to Nina’s food allergies. The kitchen had not received the memo that contained information about her allergies and so was completely unprepared, but the chef immediately came to our table, discussed Nina’s needs and came up with a wonderful curry dish which she whipped up in no time. This is a commitment to service that is rare to find worldwide, but a defining feature of our time in Stellenbosch.

I was so excited, I ate the first cupcake before I remembered to take a photo...

I was so excited, I ate the first cupcake before I remembered to take a photo…

After lunch, it was time for the cupcake pairing, which pairs four cupcakes with four of Delheim’s wines. The cupcakes were a Roiboos (which is a South African tea) cupcake, a pomegranate cupcake, a Makataan (an African melon) cupcake, and a pumpkin cupcake. These cupcakes were paired with (in order) an unwooded Chardonnay, again the Pinotage Rose, a Chardonnay Sur Lie (a Chardonnay that spend time on the lees), and the winery’s Pinotage.

Again, the pairings were interesting and accentuated different aspects of the wines and the cupcakes. For example, the Chardonnay Sur Lie, that had a bit too many bitter aromas for my taste and was a tad too alcoholic, definitely worked with the melon cupcake. The Pinotage Rose brought great acidity to the pomegranate cupcake which alone lacked that freshness. But most striking was the pumpkin cupcake and the Pinotage. The Pinotage and the cinnamon in the cupcake made for a super interesting combination that made my day…

All in all, Delheim’s line up of wines is mostly fruit driven for easy and mostly early drinking. The wines were very tasty and also quite affordable. The pairings are 70 Rand (which is about $7), so definitely, go and try it out. Great fun, you learn about your tastebuds, you get surprised by what pairings actually are capable of, and you will enjoy the leisurely atmosphere.  Make sure you make a reservation, though! The place was packed, despite this being low season.

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Meeting the Vintners: Kleine Zalze, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Entering the estate in the evening

Entering the estate in the evening

It is hard not to notice the size of Kleine Zalze’s business endeavors as you enter the compound through a security gate: To your left, you find rows of apartments, there is a lodge, and in the distance is a golf course operated by Kleine Zalze, but at the heart of these operations, geographically and by importance, is its winery.

Kleine Zalze was founded in 1685 and was purchased by the current owners Kobus and Mariette Basson in 1996. Its production is 720,000 bottles per year. The winery has between 50 and 60 hectares under vine, but it also buys grapes from 23 suppliers that have long-term contracts with Kleine Zalze. This stems from the simple fact that some grapes are simply not suited for Kleine Zalze’s holdings (like Sauvignon blanc), but are seen as essential by the owners for their portfolio. These contract growers are spread out over the Cape, with some over 400 km away from Stellenbosch. The logistics of this seemed to be quite intense, with regular inspections at the vineyards and then bringing the grapes in cooling vans to Stellenbosch so that they don’t start fermenting after picking. I know that this practice is common in many wine regions, but I think it was the first time I got to talk with a winemaker about the logistics.

With assistant winemaker Dirk van Zyl

With assistant winemaker Dirk van Zyl

Dirk van Zyl is an assistant winemaker and vineyard manager at Kleine Zalze. His family owns a small winery, so it was natural for him to go into the wine business. At Kleine Zalze, he is in charge of integrating vineyard management and winemaking. This means that a big part of his job is driving to the contract growers and inspecting their vineyards, adjusting methods and doing what is necessary there. In the cellar, he is involved in all areas of winemaking. Dirk very clearly loves his job, and he loves working at Kleine Zalze. When I asked him about future plans, he told me he wants to stay with Kleine Zalze as long as he can to learn more about different vineyard sites and cellaring methods. Eventually, he plans to return to the family farm but not for now.

Kleine Zalze produces three lines of wines (a practice that seems common in the Stellenbosch region): the Cellar Selection, which is meant for early drinking with usually low use of oak and more fruity in taste; the Vineyard Selection as the middle tier of quality, in which all white wines are barreled; and the Family Reserve, which is their highest tier.

Our line up for the night

Our line up for the night

I will focus these reviews on the high end wines for the sake of readability, but I want to point out the two whites we tasted of the Cellar Selection, a 2014 Sauvignon blanc and a 2014 Chenin blanc, which were both great easy drinking wines. The Sauvignon blanc was fruity with great acidity, and the Chenin blanc struck me with its fruit mix of guava, gooseberry and peach.

The 2012 Sauvignon blanc Family Reserve spent 12 months on the lees in stainless steel and is meant to be more in an Old World style. The color was slightly golden, and the nose was intriguing: full aromas of tropical fruit (and some banana?) and honey, with some acidity noticeable in the nose already. Most of all there was something that reminded of an older Riesling. I couldn’t nail it down to what it was, but definitely intriguing. Its mouthfeel was nicely velvety, much heavier than the Cellar Selection. Aroma-wise, I got gooseberry and green pepper, but all in all it was rather restrained, which wasn’t a bad thing. It was nice mixture of soft and muscular, with good acidity and a nice finish to it.

The 2012 Chenin blanc Family Reserve was the maiden vintage for this line’s Chenin blanc. The grapes come from three sites in Stellenbosch, which all have different soil types (granite, decomposed shell, and sand and clay mix). Vinification begins in stainless steel and then the wine spends one year on the lees in first and second fill barrels. The color was golden, and the nose quite expressive and complex. There was tons of tropical fruit (probably pineapple most prominently). On the palate, you could taste a bunch of minerality, acidity was again spot on, and the wine was creamy and balanced with an elegant finish. Everything was well made in this wine, but somehow it didn’t touch me the way it probably should have. It probably needs more time to age.

And two of the whites we tried...

And two of the whites we tried…

The 2010 Shiraz Family Reserve was made from grapes from one block which contains three different soil types which produce different kinds of grapes: some with thicker skins, others with thinner skin and therefore less tannin potential. The batches are fermented separately, some in open cement containers, and then are blended afterwards. The color was a dark ruby red, and the nose was intense and concentrated, with chocolate and coffee aromas. Nina and I both loved how well integrated the wine tasted: it was grippy with great tannins that held it all together, with dark fruit aromas and a long finish. The balance of it all was great. When I just checked Nina’s notes, I saw a smiling face beside this wine. Mine has a bunch of plusses. A total winner.

The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve we tried comes from one block in Stellenbosch and is aged in first fill barrels for 26 months. The nose of the wine was complex and very intense, almost aggressively so. I picked up boiled green peppers, bitter chocolate and what I would describe as tomato stalks (have you ever smelled them?). Nina’s notes read pencil shavings and spice with lots of red fruit. On the palate, despite its age, the 2008 was still very firm and closed, with restrained fruit, and still a bunch of green aromas. It was very hard to assess at this stage because it didn’t really want to come out of its shell. When I voiced some frustration about this, and that I would love to try it again in three years, Dirk got up and told us to wait. He came back with a bottle of 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve that had been opened a few days before! While the nose was pretty much gone, just a whiff of prunes left, the flavor worked on this one: great tannins and what I would describe as port wine like flavors (fortified, prunes, sweet cherry). It was succulent and full, enticing and alluring. All of that topped by a long finish. This was an impressive wine, and it did give an idea of where the 2008 might be headed…if that’s the case, there’s some good times ahead for it…and what a great way to finish the tasting.

If you visit the estate, make sure you book lunch or dinner at Terroir, the restaurant on the estate. The food is exquisite and very well prepared. A must for me in Stellenbosch.

2005 Kleine Zalze Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve

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Meeting the Vintners: GranMonte Asoke Valley, Khao Yai, Thailand

The vineyards of GranMonte Winery

The vineyards of GranMonte Winery

Disclosure: We visited GranMonte at the invitation of the owners who provided us with food, wine, lodging, and an awesome time. 

It’s been half a year now since Nina and I visited GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery in Thailand’s Khao Yai region. I published an article on Palate Press about our experience there (you can find that article here), but I wanted to expand a bit, because the word limit on Palate Press cut into my usual wordiness when it comes to winemakers…

As I indicated in the Palate Press article, I was initially skeptical of winery operations in Thailand and could not quite believe that a tropical climate was very suitable for the attempt. But my fellow blogger Rainer The Man from Mosel River, who at the time was living in Bangkok, convinced me to get in touch with the owners Visooth and Sakuna Lohitnavy, and see for myself. So, after our eight week whirlwind through Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, and fresh from Railay Beach, we embarked on the two and a half hour bus ride to Khao Yai. Khao Yai is a natural reserve in Eastern Thailand. The landscape is gorgeously hilly and lushly green. When we arrived at the drop off city Muak Lek, a driver from GranMonte was waiting for us and took us to the winery, which is nestled between hills and sits on property that Visooth’s father owned in Asoke Valley and which was previously used for corn and cashew production. I wasn’t prepared for how excited I would get by seeing vineyards after several months…it’s little joys that make the journey worthwhile, I guess…:)

More vineyards

More vineyards

Let me give you some background on the winery: GranMonte was founded in 1999 by Visooth Lohitnavy and his wife Sakuna. It started on approximately 12 acres, and now has reached a size of about 36 acres. The family opened a state of the art wine making facility in 2009 which has a maximum capacity of 120,000 bottles, although currently it produces around 90,000 bottles a year. GranMonte currently makes wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin blanc, Syrah, Viognier, Semillon, Verdelho, and Durif grapes.

The winemaker is Nikki Lohitnavy, Sakuna and Visooth’s daughter, who grew up on the property and decided at a young age that she wanted to get into wine making. She studied at winemaking at the University of Adelaide, Australia, and is Thailand’s only female oenologist to date. For her young age, she has a ton of experience including harvesting and making wine in France, Brazil, and Portugal. She is full of energy and passion, entertaining and adventurous. We were glad to spend a considerable amount of time with her. It never ceases to amaze me how much passion these young winemakers bring to their job, and in that she reminded me a lot of some of the young winemakers I was fortunate to meet along the Mosel and in Rheinhessen. But Nikki seems even more impressive to me, because she was not born into a wine culture like most of the winemakers I know. So she does not have that background that many can rely on, and still is doing an outstanding job.

Hanging out with Nikki

Hanging out with Nikki

It is her and her father’s enthusiasm that is visible in the whole winery endeavor: They use top notch modern equipment like five weather monitoring stations that not just measure the weather but also the soil’s humidity, which has led to a marked reduced in their need (or perceived need) for watering. The vineyards are impeccably maintained. Being a young winery in a new wine region, they experiment with a ton of things, like harvesting grapes twice a year (turns out that’s not such a good idea since the vines just get very tired), or growing Riesling (also not a good idea, because the warm weather is not good for the cool climate grape). I really enjoyed seeing this adventurism at work, and it was great how open the family shared with us…

Touring the estate with owner Visooth

Touring the estate with owner Visooth

It’s impossible not to notice how much detail goes into everything: The staff at the winery’s tasting room is courteous and knowledgeable, the wait staff at the winery’s exquisite restaurant Vin Cotto just as attentive and hospitable. Every dish we tried was very well executed (I had an outstanding coq au vin, just to name one dish!).

What struck us the most during our dinner with our hosts was how food compatible the wines were. An example that stood out was the 2012 Heritage Syrah, one of their top line wines. We drank this wine with steaks that came with spicy oils: a more medium spicy Thai dip, and an insanely spicy tip with Brazilian chili peppers. My mouth BURNED! And yet, the Heritage Syrah was cutting through it like it was nothing. That was a stunning experience.

The wines we were able to try were good to very good, and impressed us quite a bit. There is a lot of craft and skill going into them, and I can only see them get better as Nikki keeps experimenting and learning. I will write up some of my tasting notes in an extra post.

The state of the art cellar

The state of the art cellar

All in all, we had a great experience at GranMonte. It is a perfect place to kick back and relax, enjoy some great Thai wine, and very good Western food. I assume it is not on many people’s bucket list, but the natural beauty of Khao Yai National Park can definitely be an attraction off the beaten path. Thailand, it turns out, is not just for beaches, but has joined the growing universe of wine production. And quite impressively so. I hope you can make a trip there and see, but more importantly, taste for yourself what they have to offer.

You can reach GranMonte, which is around 160 kilometers north east of Bangkok, via a taxi, bus, or mini-bus. I recommend getting in touch with the winery first, they can present you with good options on how to get there. We took the mini-bus and it was comfortable and cheap.  GranMonte also has a gorgeous guesthouse overlooking the vineyards. You can find GranMonte’s contact information here.

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